Cultivating a garden community

Springtime brings to mind a lazy Sunday afternoon besieged by sweet garden fragrances — interrupted by seasoned barbecue aromas — intermingled with poetic Celtic sounds.

Just south of Morro Bay’s Del Mar Park, the Estero Bay Community Garden Club welcomes all to explore its 42 gardens. The “plotters” are also sharing their pickings by cooking up an organic barbecue with fixings Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m.

The Serendidlies will entertain while children make stepping stones. The barbecue costs $10 and will help the club build a shed for equipment, a greenhouse, a rainwater collection center and a gathering place to share gardening tips.

Master gardener Johannah Varland has been the garden’s manager since seedlings were planted in 2004. Estero Bay United Methodist Church’s former pastor, Steve Islander, and Lee Greenawalt posted a search for interested community gardeners.

Varland showed up to plan the garden, as did Noah Smukler and Laura Lopez, who ultimately became organic catering business partners and then married in 2009.

They worked on an irrigation system and divided the land into plots. Bob and Dianne Mason leased first but recently were inspired to build a home with a larger garden.

The church originally loaned the property for five years. Last year, it determined the garden was a successful community outreach and offered more acreage to expand to 42 plots — the largest community garden in the county.

“Most community gardens are city projects,” Varland said. “This is private/nonprofit. The church’s day-care program teaches the children to garden and healthy eating.”

The gardeners grow everything from sunflowers to herbs, vegetables and fruit trees, qualifying it as an urban forest under Morro Bay’s Tree City program. And the garden even has bugs.

“When we started, there was no life,” Varland said. “Now, there’s butterflies and centipedes. We have chickens to compost. We built a fence to protect the garden from the deer. Starlings and gophers can be a problem.”

She credits the Conservation Corps and Summer Youth Corps, many volunteers and the church partnership for maintaining the garden. Of course, the individuals who lease the plots for $60 or $65 a year are the heartbeat of the community garden, which has a couple of plots left to lease.

The gardeners come from all walks of life — working or retired — and all levels of expertise — some learning, some teaching their children and others simply enjoying the life cycle of nurturing new growth.

Barbecue tickets can be purchased Sunday or by calling Susan Heinemann at 772-7828.

Reach Judy at 801-1422 or jsalamacha@yahoo.com.